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Brokers and multinational firms are holding us hostage: fishermen


Fishermen at the Indian ocean go about their business.


Fishermen at the Coast are unhappy, suffering alienation from fruits of their labour. They say they have nothing of their own; not even the little fish they painstakingly catch in the tumultuous ocean.

The fishermen told The Standard they had been held captive by brokers, who buy their fish at a throw-away price but make huge profits selling the same at international markets. Even worse, the brokers determine how much to pay for fish.

To ensure the artisan fishermen remain loyal to them, the brokers have taken advantage of their poverty and provided them with basic fishing gear. This ensures the fishermen have no choice but to sell the fish to the brokers. They are also unable to challenge conditions the brokers and multinationals have imposed on them.

But that is not all that the thousands of fishermen on the 1,420km coastline from Kwale to Lamu, who brave the hostile waters to meet their masters’ demands, have to put up with. The government is in the process of reviving the industrial marine fishing that collapsed in the 1990s and the fishermen fear this could complicate matters, as they lack appropriate fishing gear to venture into deep-sea fishing as the multinationals do.

The revival of industrial marine fishing will have projects such as construction of the Sh1.8 billion Liwatoni Fish Complex in Mombasa and Sh20 billion Shimoni Fishing Port in Kwale. 

A modern jetty is also expected. Offices will be refurbished, a yard, cold storage facilities, and a fish market built. Construction of the 4.5km road providing access to Shimoni Port in Kwale has been completed.

However, The Standard has established that the project is yet to start, with no activity in the 3.8ha allocated to the Shimoni Fishing Port for the project. “Nothing is happening on the ground. The concerned parties collected our views on the project but we are yet to get their feedback,” said Mr Mohamed Kassim, the secretary of Wasini Beach Management Unit (BMU).

Mr Kassim says they fear the project will interfere with the Community Conservation Area (CCA), where 280 Wasini BMU members eke a living from fishing and tourism.

The Sh250 million CCA was built through support from international development organisations. “We earn at least Sh300,000 per month from this CCA, which is a tourism attraction and fishing site. The dredging expected as the government builds Shimoni Fishing Port will destroy coral reefs and the sea grass,” says Mr Kassim.

The government estimates that in the next 10 years, the fishing sector will generate 60,000 jobs and fish production will increase to 300,000 tonnes a year during that period.

In the 2021/2022 financial year, the government set aside Sh1.8 billion for the building of the Liwatoni Fish Complex landing site. On April 7, the state unveiled a new contractor after the tender awarded to Daniels Outlets Ltd was terminated.

Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Blue Economy PS Dr Francis Owino said the new contractor, CEER Contractor, was chosen from seven bidders and will have six months to complete and hand over the first phase of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy project.

The Liwatoni Fisheries Complex will have six berths, storage facilities and an auction yard. However, fishermen in Mombasa do not think the project will benefit them. “The project is for industrial fishing, not for small-scale fishermen like us. We have no gears to venture into the deep sea,” said Ms Mercy Maghanga, the chairperson of Mombasa BMU.

Ms Maghanga said one would need a capital of up to Sh50 million to buy gear to compete fairly against multinationals.

She said fishing communities at Ngare, Mkupe and Kitanga Juu in Likoni had been evicted after the area was declared a restricted zone. This follows a November 2018 presidential order for the State Department of Fisheries and National Land Commission to repossess all public fish landing sites in the Coast region. Ngare, Mkupe and Kitanga Juu, near the port of Mombasa, have been classified as restricted areas and local fishermen ordered to relocate.

Mr Andrew Mwangura, a seafarer and fishermen lobbyist, said five of the 51 sites had been mapped for repossessing and titling. Out of the 141 fish landing sites along the Coast, there are 77 gazetted fish landing sites as per Schedule 4 of the Fisheries Act. Kwale has 31, Kilifi seven while Tana River has one.

In Mombasa, there are 36 landing sites used by the fishermen. Some 51 landing sites have been grabbed, according to Mr Mwangura, who is also a maritime analyst.

Mr Said Swaleh, a fisherman in Mombasa, said they had been left at the mercy of middlemen. “There are many fishermen who have been contracted by international fish companies operating in Kilifi and Mombasa. I did that job for some time and I can tell you, it is modern-day slavery.”

“A fisherman is given a boat and a target fish catch. The target must be delivered every day. The tragedy in all this is that the boat owner decides how much he will pay for the fish,” he added.

Mr Swaleh said there were efforts by national and county governments, Blue Economy Secretariat, and Jumuiya ya Kauti za Pwani to help fishermen, but nothing much achieved as the efforts were disjointed.

“Most of these projects are also shrouded in secrecy and we don’t know why,” said Mr Swaleh, adding: “The government is also yet to deal with illegal unreported and unregulated fishing even after establishing Kenya Coast Guard Services.”

It is estimated that Kenya loses about Sh10 billion to the illegal fishing every year.

But even a bigger challenge to residents, according to Mr Swaleh and Ms Maghanga, is the dwindling fish stocks near the shore. “This therefore calls for empowerment of residents,” said Maghanga.

Similar sentiments were raised by fishermen in Wasini and other islands in Kwale. County, where the government plans to develop the Sh20 billion modern Shimoni Fishing Port.